Much as I love empowerment, self-love, and confidence, I am going to pass out if I write another article about sex appeal this week. That stuff’s important, but only as one piece of the puzzle of what it means to be a whole, healthy woman.
What are some other signs that you are healthy – and as a woman, specifically?
What do you want to look for as signals of wellness?
Here are the most important (and check out the book I wrote on women’s health for even more information):
1. If of reproductive age, you have a regular menstrual cycle.
The menstrual cycle is highly sensitive to fluctuations in health. Impaired gut health, inflammation, insulin resistance, physical stress and mental stress can all negatively impact your cycle and its regularity. If your cycle is irregular, you may want to investigate what may be causing it. An irregular cycle is a pretty clear signal that at least some thing is amiss in your body, even if the list of potential culprits is long.
2. Your period is relatively pain-free.
I will not guarantee you a painless menstrual cycle, no matter how healthy you are.
But if you are physiologically healthy, your period will never make you so sick you have to miss work or spend an entire day curled up in the foetal position with Love Actually. Common reasons for intense pain during a menstrual cycle are endometriosis – a condition of having endometrial tissue planted excessively throughout your abdominal cavity – and estrogen dominance. Endometriosis is associated with autoimmunity and immune system dysreulation, so an autoimmune protocol may be in order. Estrogen dominance is a result of being overweight, stress, inflammation, poor liver health, and birth control use.
High amounts of inflammation can also seriously impact your menstrual experience. Many women find that excessive sugar or a meal out at a restaurant leads to menstrual pain in the following days.
3. You do not go crazy once every month.
PMS is a sure sign that your neurotransmitters – the molecules that make up the bulk of your brain – are not quite working the way they should. In PMS, certain “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine do not react well to the hormonal changes at the end of your menstrual cycle.
So both your hormones need to be balanced and your neurotransmitters need to be supported if you suffer PMS or PMDD (the more extreme form of PMS). Cooling inflammation, weight loss, focusing on omega 3s, exercise, eliminating grains, dairy, and sugar, and healthy animal protein are all great ways to do this.
4. You sleep well.
Women experience insomnia at much higher rates than men. This is largely because hormones influence everything in the body. Estrogen is necessary for moving magnesium into tissues, which helps your body shut off at night. So without proper hormone balance, you may have trouble falling and staying asleep (see my favorite magnesium supplement here).
Women are also highly sensitive to stress hormones. Cortisol – the primary stress hormone – is also responsible for wakefulness. So if you are under an undue amount of stress, that can show up in your sleeping patterns and wreak havoc all its own.
If you sleep well, this is a good sign that you are in decent hormone balance, have your stress within manageable ranges, produce the right amount of sleep hormones, and have healthy neurotransmitters.
5. You have regular bowel movements.
Constipation, diarrhea, and irregularity are all signs that something’s a bit off with your digestive processes. This is likely due to an impaired gut flora population (which often runs hand in hand with leaky gut). This is a crucial problem to address for many reasons. 1) Your comfort. 2) Your intestinal lining and a healthy immune system. 3) Keeping inflammation in check. And 4) Keeping estrogen levels healthy. Too little fiber and too much constipation makes your body re-absorb estrogen that it is trying to excrete, possibly making you estrogen dominant; and too much fiber and diarrhea on the other hand can do the very opposite.
6. You have clear skin.
This is a tough one for me. I have incredibly sensitive skin. Nonetheless, in the end I have nothing to be but grateful for this fact since my sensitivity makes me so attuned to small differences in my health. My cystic acne alerted me to my dairy and soy sensitivities. My keratosis pilaris (those red bumps commonly found on people’s arms) only flares up when I eat gluten, alerting me to some degree of sensitivity on that front. I break out when I am under even a small degree of stress.
And all of this is even more extreme because I had/have PCOS, one of the most common female hormone imbalances.
Your skin is littered with testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, DHEA-S, and other sex hormone receptors. Testosterone aggravates the skin and causes increased oil production, and estrogen soothes and softens your skin. If you experience cystic acne, particularly as it may fluctuate with your menstrual cycle, this is a clear sign that some sort of hormone balance is plaguing you.
7. You don’t have hair in male places, like around your mouth, and you aren’t balding where men do, like on the top of your head.
Male-pattern hair growth and hair loss is a clear sign of hormone imbalance. When your hormone profile matches a man’s — primarily via testosterone excess — you will develop hair growth patterns like a man’s.
8. You have a libido.
Libido is not just a side benefit of being a woman. It’s an important marker of health. Hormone imbalance – in both the cases when estrogen levels are too high and when male sex hormone levels like testosterone are too high – will often precipitously endanger your sex drive. Stress and poor sleep also derail libido. As does poor psychological health regarding sex.
If your libido is raging, ten stars for you. If you struggle with it, consider working on issues of hormone balance, reducing stress, and creating the safest sexual environment possible.
9 You have energy both before and after you exercise.
You shouldn’t have to force a workout. If you have the right amount of energy, (and if you are appropriately listening to your body!), exercise should feel good and fun. You also shouldn’t be so fatigued afterward. If you have energy both before and after you exercise, this is a good sign that your body is not over-taxed, that your stress hormones are in manageable levels, and that your body is on board with your current lifestyle.
9.5 You have energy. Period.
Way, way, way too many women are chronically fatigued. From stress hormone excess to poor sleep to hypothyroidism, it is incredibly easy for women’s lives to slip away into brain fog. If you are chronically fatigued, consider nutrient deficiencies, stress, inadequate sleep, too low carbohydrate or fat intake, too low calorie intake, blood sugar fluctuations and hypothyroidism as possible culprits. Hypothyroidism is particularly important for women since the vast majority of hypothyroid cases occur in women. The thyroid gland is highly sensitive to pituitary and stress hormone activity, both of which we know are crucial and highly influential aspects of women’s health.
10. Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t impossible.
Women have a harder time losing and maintaining a “healthy” weight than men. Why? Hormones, of course. For one, the female body is highly sensitive to starvation signals, so if you over-do it in terms of calorie restriction or exercise over a long period of time, your body may rebel by decreasing its fat-burning rate. For another, if you are on birth control or your estrogen levels are at all elevated (due to inflammation, being overweight, stress, and the like), your estrogen levels may be encouraging weight storage and preventing you from losing weight. If you are menopausal, you may struggle with weight maintenance because your estrogen levels are too low (counter-intuitive, I know), and you need at least a little bit of estrogen in order to store fat properly.
Also, the female body just so happens to usually really love having some fat on it, so give it a hug. Don’t try to starve it away.
Interested in more information on losing or maintaining weight in a healthy way? Check out my book Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution.
All of which and more is in the seminal guide to women’s health, Sexy by Nature, @ Amazon and in stores now!